April 2011

Updates from Japan

UPDATE: RDTN has been rebranded as Safecast

iGeigie Two

In my last post I talked about working on RDTN and if you’ve been following the RDTN blog you know we’ve been busy. In addition to building the worlds first Geiger counter integrated with an iPhone ( image is the second, slightly modified version that we built last night), several of us have been in Tokyo for the New Context Conference and to work with the Tokyo Hackerspace team on some on the ground solutions. We’ve made a ton of progress and hope to have some announcements on that front in a few days. In the meantime we’ve been heads down planning and hacking.

RDTN war room

There’s a few videos that have surfaced that I think really make it clear why we’re doing this, and why it needs to happen. This first video is an introduction to Oyama Shienmura (Support Community) which shows inside Iitatemura, using a geiger counter on loan from the Tokyo Hackerspace, taking readings in what was reportedly a safe zone. This area was outside of the initial evacuation zone, though it was later evacuated around 4/10, this video was taken around 4/5 when all official reports where that the area was safe. This region has many organic farmers who had no idea there could be problems. (in Japanese but with English subtitles)

This second video, a team from GlobalDIRT is taking readings about 25K away from the Fukushima plant. Their their readings are here and you can see where they were picking up isotopes. We haven’t been in touch with them yet, though I’ve reached out – if anyone knows people there I’d love an introduction.

Obviously there is information that the residents of the areas need to have and aren’t getting for whatever reason. Hopefully these efforts can help with that. More soon.

What I’m working on – RDTN

UPDATE: RDTN has been rebranded as Safecast

A few weeks ago my good friend Joi Ito added me an e-mail chain with a few guys in Portland at Uncorked Studios who had an idea for a website tracking and mapping radiation readings in Japan. It launched almost immediately and I mentioned it on BoingBoing because the guys seemed cool and I really liked every aspect of what they were doing. We started talking more, gradually pulling in another person here and there as the conversation ventured into territory unbeknownst to us but knownst to others. Before long emails stopped saying “you guys” and started saying “we” – completely unintentionally we’d formed a team and the project was fast becoming something much more than a simple mapping site.

David Ewald and Marcelino J. Alvarez from Uncorked have been our main points of contact, though I’m sure there are others there who have been helping out just as much. In addition to Joi and myself, we’ve managed to rope in Akiba, Pieter Franken, bunnie Huang, Aaron Huslage, Ray Ozzie and Dan Sythe, as well as a few others to the “team.” And yes, that is indeed on hell of a team. Two of the most exciting aspects of the team for me is how organically everyone came together, and how, while obviously some people are better and more focused on some aspect over another, by and large there is no compartmentalization – we’re all talking about everything together and constantly brainstorming. But as interesting as that might be, it’s really nothing next to the project itself.

So the problem is this: The vast majority of the radiation data that is out there comes from the pro or anti nuclear camps. By design, figures coming from groups that have a stake in those numbers being high or low aren’t very trustworthy. And even if they were trustworthy, they are all reported differently, sporadically and without good geolocations. For instance, giving radiation figures for Tokyo is fairly useless since radiation can increase or decrease dramatically essentially across the street. Or an hour later. And while there are more and more sensors in the hands of consumers, there isn’t a a central point where all that data is. Enter RDTN.org.

That is the site as it exists right this moment. The majority of the data on the site is from existing sources – MEXT, US EPA, Greenpeace, etc but there is also a mechanism for people to submit readings they’ve taken on their own. This is actually the most important part and the thing we’re focusing on the most. As you can see the data that is coming in right now is clumped in certain areas, however if we can get enough sensors out to people then we can fill in those gaps and present a much better picture of what is really happening right now. And if we can package up all that data into a format that makes sense and then make it available for anyone for any purpose, that could become a very powerful tool for people.

There’s a few phases to that clearly. We’ve got the website up right now. We’ve just launched a Kickstarter to help us raise the funds to buy about 600 geiger counters that we’ll be distributing around Japan over the next few months – though this will require people to report the readings back to us. Which is why we’re also in the process of designing our own device that will take readings and transmit those findings back to up automatically and much more frequently. This will be some pretty impressive data to look at, and assuming all goes well with Japan, well, that’s just the first step.

I’m really excited about this project because it really hits many of my interests square on. It takes power (data) out of the hands of a small set of privileged gate keepers and gives it to the people who actually need it. It does this free of charge which very directly has the potential to make the world a better place. I know that sounds lofty, but that’s kind of the point. You can’t really propose going over the heads of the collective atomic industry and think of it as a minor objective. In order for this to matter it has to be massive, and so that is the plan.

Later this week I’m heading to Tokyo for The New Context Conference which has shifted in focus since the recent earthquake to disasters, emergency and social media playing a big role after the fact. Many of the other RDTN team is traveling there as well and we’ll have one of the first planning sessions with several of us being in the same room (and timezone) rather than different countries connected by Skype. I expect much more awesome to come from this soon, so stay tuned.

Getting voted off the island for fun and profit

There’s a common philosophy that encourages entrenching yourself in a project or organization so that you are hard to replace. It suggests that you want to be in a position where things couldn’t function without you because obviously in a case like this you are a very valuable part of the equation.

I used to think this made a lot of sense. Now I think it’s both stupid and cowardly.

Consider this:

  • Interesting projects attract awesome people.
  • Empowered fans become the most motivated leaders.
  • Leadership needs to be excited.
  • Term limits work in politics, maybe they should be applied to leadership as well.
  • Anyone who is worried about being replaced, probably should be.
  • If the idea is solid, it can live on without you.
  • If you are worried about losing control, then you don’t have time to worry about making the project more awesome.
  • The project can always be more awesome.
  • Anyone who is an active and valuable part of a team isn’t going to be replaced.
  • Anyone who isn’t an active and valuable part of a team should be replaced.

All this applies to founders as much as it does to people who join up several steps down the line. Earlier this week I talked about leaving Metblogs and suggested it’s something that perhaps should have happened sooner. It didn’t for many reasons, but not the least of which was my fear that without me things would fall apart. This is admittedly conceited and self important. It’s also false – Metblogs is and has always much bigger than me. I knew that, but I didn’t really know what that meant. I don’t know that I do now either, but I think I have a little bit more of an idea anyway – and that is that ideas are much more important than any one person and a really good idea will attract people who will embrace it as their own. This is kind of crucial, if no one else wants to embrace an idea it’s probably not that good.

I’m projecting here of course, but this is my blog so I’m allowed to do that. I have a short attention span. Some people can work on one project for years, hell some people work on one project for their entire lives. I completely respect that dedication, and at the same time I know that sounds like total hell to me. No matter how great the project is, as some point it’s just the project you’ve been working on for X years and you can’t see it from the same perspective as someone who just discovered it and is wholly consumed by the excitement of it.

Which is sort of what has led me to this new perspective.

Creating something that you can walk away from and it lives on it awesome. Super WIN.

Realizing you’ve contributed everything you can to a project and being comfortable with walking away allows someone else can take it to the next level. Super WIN.

Creating something that you can walk away from allows you to find the next exciting thing to create. Super WIN.

Being yourself for fun and profit

True story: A few years ago I got a call from a potential client asking for some help with an event they were working on – an ongoing annual event that they wanted to have a better online face than previous years. I gave them the usual line about my “pick your brain fee” and they agreed to it. A week later I was in their office to chat and brainstorm a bit.

As was another guy they had called for the same reason.

This guy ran a web shop and was definitely “slick.” He had his pitches down pat and I caught myself agreeing with him and even letting him answer questions entirely. He had a team and an impressive list of clients. Dude had his act together for sure. He had a business card and everything. I was just a guy. Also, I’m not very slick. And this was making me very self conscious. His answers were slow and collected, when he spoke the room matched his speech cadence. I bounce around like a hyperactive kid on ice cream cake. This guy was all “The road map we will layout will start with X and lead to Y” and I was all “Oh! And then we can do this! OH! OH!! And then this!! And check this out!!” Then I’d realize what a jerk I sounded like and I’d shut up and the the professionals talk.

Everyone was nice and some great info was bounced around. The meeting ended with the other guy saying he’d have his team draft up a plan of action and would have it over to them this afternoon and they could get started right away. We all shook hands and I went home and went on a bike ride assuming that would be the last time I’d hear from them.

The next day they called and asked me to come in the following week to talk again. I was a little surprised but was happy to g back in. I was even more surprised when at the next meeting the other guy wasn’t invited. They asked me if I could help on the project, I told them my price and they agreed right away. I asked about the other guy?

“Not really what we were looking for”

“Really? He had a pretty slick pitch”

“Sure he did, but we weren’t looking for a slick pitch”

From time to time I find myself think I should be acting or talking or presenting different, more like how some other successful person does it. But when I think back, I’ve never worked with anyone or been involved with any project because I tried to be someone else. In fact, I’d say the times things go wrong is when I get insecure and try to do things how someone else would. When I embrace who I am and what I have to say and what I can do, things generally work really well.

There are lots of people out there trying to be someone else. I’m the only one that’s me.

I have to remind myself of that from time to time.

Me and Metblogs

I announced this internally last week but didn’t make any public comments about it mostly because of the proximity to April 1 (I realized the date after I sent out some internal emails and got back lots of “ha ha, you aren’t fooling me!” replies. Ooops.) Last week I stepped down as the CEO of Bode Media, Inc, the parent company that publishes Metblogs and my co-founder Jason DeFillippo assumed the role.

There’s no drama or scandal or forbidden love triangle or blackmail behind this, it was simple and obviously time for a change. I’d been CEO of the company since Jason and I started it back 2003 and 8 years is a long time. Especially for someone with as short an attention span as I have and especially for something that thrives on constant engagement and excitement. I’m exceptionally proud of a lot of what Metblogs has done and while I think some of the stuff we did was too early, and some of the stuff we wanted to do we didn’t do fast enough, as a whole I think it’s all right on. Though, in the same way a drowzy driver on a road trip (hopefully) realizes when he/she is nodding off and has the sense to pull over and hand the keys to someone else, I know it’s time for someone else to drive. It’s probably been time for someone else to drive for a while honestly, and I couldn’t be happier that Jason will be doing just that.

The first several years of Metblogs were filled with explaining to people why local mattered – at that time the web was all about global. Local is finally starting to make sense, a lot of sense in fact, and I know Metblogs will be in good hands with Jason at the helm. He’s been right there with me since day one and seen it all already. I know some of what he has planned and it’s going to be awesome.

As for me, I’m looking forward to playing a non-leadership role again and will continue to blog about local stuff over on our Los Angeles site. I used to do that a lot, but haven’t so much recently. I’m excited to get back into it from purely the fun angle.

And yes, stepping out of the full time role at Bode Media means I have time for other things, though as you might expect that’s very much already spoken for. I’ve got another post coming soon talking about what I’ll be spending my time on over the next few months, but that’s another story.

Go Daddy board contacts

If you’ve been paying attention today, you’ve certainly heard all about how Bob Parsons, the CEO of Go Daddy, posted his “vacation video” where he takes a fun little trip to Zimbabwe and kills elephants. For the second year in a row. And brags about it, and poses with their corpses. You can read more about it here. Or just watch the video for yourself:


Obvious outrage is obvious.

It’s not surprising that people are moving their domains off Go Daddy in hordes today, and some domain registrars are offering deals for ex-Go Daddy customers. (unrelated to this event, my friends at Hover are offering a free service where they will do all the work and move your domains for you. I have my domains hosted there, and they are based in Canada, which is a plus for many reasons.)

Taking your dollars away from the company is a great way to show that you don’t support those kinds of actions, but you can also reach out directly and tell the Board of Directors that you are leaving their company because of the actions of the CEO. Luckily Jill Fehr tweeted their contact info earlier, but I wanted it all in one place so I could give the link out easily. So here you go:

Greg Santora’s LinkedIn profile
Chuck Robel’s LinkedIn prifile
Michael Gallagher – Phone: 508-624-8688

If you are a Go Daddy customer I would encourage you to watch the above video and ask yourself if you want to be paying the salary of someone who does that in his free time. If you decide you don’t, letting these guys know why you dumped their company can probably go a long way.